What comes to mind with you think of “Pinot”? Do you think of a ruby-red pinot noir from Burgundy or a rich deep pinot from Sonoma? Is it the pale straw of a pinot grigio from Italy? Whatever color variation of this grape you thought of, you probably were not thinking of Alsace when you thought of it. I’m here to tell you why you should, because #AlsaceRocks.
The Shades of Pinot
First lets talk about pinot. We begin with pinot noir, a grape with a thin skin that can be notoriously fickle. It has tight bunches (that are shaped like pine cones, hence the name) that are prone to rot. It wants lots of sun, but doesn’t want to be too hot. Luckily, the Cistercian monks in Burgundy found their penance in the hard work of coddling this grape to it’s greatness.
From here we get the mutations: pinot blanc and pinot gris. Simply enough, pinot blanc is a white grape mutation and pinot gris is a “grey” grape. While not truly grey, pinot gris sits in the in between hue ranging from bluish gray to pinkish brown. Of course pinot gris is the French term for this grape, in Italy they call it pinot grigio.
Beyond this we get Crémant d’Alsace, a sparkling wine that can be made from any of the pinots, (and upon occasion some “not pinots” like chardonnay) but all Crémant d’Alsace Rosé must be made from pinot noir, in the method traditionelle.
Map of the Wine Region of Alsace France
This region is perfect for these wines as they thrive in the dry climate created by the Vosges Mountains. Alsace is a thin strip on the North eastern edge of France. This area has gone back and forth between Germany and France for centuries and the style of houses and names of towns attest to that fact. It’s a fairytale land with charming villages with half-timbered buildings, dotted with flower boxes. You can explore these delightful towns on the oldest wine route in France, that travels 106 miles from Marlenheim to Thann, stopping to taste the wines and the food as you explore this beautiful region.
The charming city of Eguisheim in Alsace France
Then there is the soil. We did say #AlsaceRocks right? This area at the foot of the Vosges Mountains is a patchwork of soils. You find granite, and sandstone, limestone, schist and volcanic soils. Once, fifty million years ago, the Black Forest and the Vosges were a single mountain range, pushed up by the plates. When this collapsed it formed the Rhine River. All that shifting around will geologically mix up some soil, and hence you get all these varied pockets of soil that add fascinating diversity to the vineyards.
The Wines & Pairings
A range of pinots from Alsace from Teuwen Communications (and Loki)
Now lets dive into the hues of pinots. @DrinkAlsace was kind enough to provide us a variety of pinots to taste through. (All opinions are my own) We begin with a 2017 Pinot Blanc from Emile Beyer, followed by a 2012 Pinot Gris from Dopff & Irion, on to a 2015 Leon Beyer Pinot Noir and finishing with a Crémant d’Alscace Rosé from Domaine Zinck. All but one of these wines come from the village of Eguisheim. The Pinot Gris is the exception coming from Riquewirh.
Emile Beyer Pinot Blanc Traditional 2017
Emile Beyer is a 43 acre family estate just outside of Colmar in the village of Eguisheim. This wine comes from younger vineyards on the estate. The soil here is clay, sandstone & chalky marl, and the grapes are mostly Pinot Blanc with a little Auxerrois. Alcohol sits at about 13%. $15
I searched for cheeses to pair with this wine and went off to look for a Saint-Nectaire and a Chaource.
Chaource is a named for the village of Chaource in France. It is a very soft ripened cow’s milk cheese. This cheese is soft and buttery. My Murray’s guy found me a domestic equivalent that did not disappoint. Murray’s Delice is a lovely soft ripened cheese that really and truly melted in your mouth. It went nicely with the wine.
Delice from Murray’s Cheese shop, similar to a Chaource
Saint-Nectaire is a Tomme style cheese again from cow’s milk. It is a semi soft washed rind cheese. It specifically comes from the Auvergne region of France and is made from the mild of cows that feed in rich volcanic pastures. It matures 6-8 weeks on rye straw mats, which causes a pungent smell.
My Murray’s guy pointed me toward a Springbrook Vermont Artisan Cheese which was similar to an Alpine raclette. This gave us a different texture to compare with the Delice. Michael found it too pungent, but I enjoyed it.
Springbrook Vermont Artisan Cheese similar to a Saint-Nectaire cheese from France
I had envied a fellow blogger his grilled peaches the other day, and planned on making some myself. I got running behind on dinner and instead sliced my peach and plopped a little goat cheese on it, a leaf of basil and wrapped it in prosciutto. This was definitely the right decision, both time wise and pairing wise. The fresh peach was still a little firm and with the goat cheese was really nice with the wine, picking up on those unripe stone fruit notes. It was also cool and easy to eat. I suggest these bites for all summer!.
Peach slices with goat cheese wrapped with basil and prosciutto
I knew the minute I saw the suggestion of an egg dish with this wine, that I would go that direction. I looked through quiche recipes and then settled on the simplicity of a Frittata. This wine loves spring vegetables so a spring green salad would go along side. I quick pickled some small golden beets and radishes in honey and white wine vinegar to add to the top with some pine nuts.
The frittata I filled with broccoli, peas and green beans that I quickly blanched, then I sautéed golden beets, radishes and zucchini and let them develop a little crunch. I added a cup of ricotta to add a creamy cheese to the mix that would not be too heavy. Red onions were sautéed before dropping in the egg mixture. And it cooked to perfection in my rod iron skillet.
Spring salad with pickled beets and radishes and a spring vegetable frittata with a Pinot Blanc
Dopff & Irion Cuvée René Dopff Pinot Gris 2012
René Dopff took over Dopff & Irion in 1945 as he joined forces with the Widow Madame Irion, taking over the Château de Riquewirh. The Château was built in 1549 by the Princes of Württemberg who ruled this area for 5 centuries.
The Village of Riquewirh in Alsace. Home of Dopff and Irion
This wine is 100% Pinot Gris with soil in marl, limestone, gypsum, clay and sandstone. This cuveé comes from 200 selected vine-growers. It is stored on lees for 4 weeks before maturing in tank for four months. Like the Pinot Blanc it sits at 13% alcohol. $21.
Exotic and Strange Pairings
Dopff & Irion suggestioned “Pair with oriental and exotic cuisine like prawns with Thai Sauce, chicken curry or cottage cheese with pepper. “Cottage cheese with pepper? It seemed strange to me, but I was definitely going to try this! Other suggestions included mushrooms and cream sauces, triple crème cheeses, green beans, and tikka masala.
So our pairings included a triple crème cheese with mushrooms, almonds, hazelnuts, apricots, apricot compote, cottage cheese with pepper, green beans, mushroom risotto, tikka masala, chicken in a thai curry sauce and fettuccine with chicken and a crème sauce. It gave a wide variety of styles of food to pair with.
This wine was full and warm on the palate with baked apples and warm apricots. It was lush with a viognier like quality. Golden in color it opened into white flowers and the stones of stone fruit.
It spiked the flavor in the hazelnuts, blended nicely with the cottage cheese and pepper and brightened the spice in the Tikka Masala without adding heat.
With the mushrooms it leaned into the depth of forest floor. My favorite bite was the triple crème with mushrooms with the apricot compote. This was glorious in my mouth.
This wine was exceptional. So much depth! While I enjoyed all the wines, this was my favorite.
House of Leon Beyer 2015 Pinot Noir
This wine is one of the oldest Alsatian family owned estates. Founded in 1580 this winery is now run by Marc Beyer and his son, who along with a team of 21 others farm 173 acres.
The soils are limestone and clay with grapes from vines that are 25 to 30 years old. This wine was fermented in glass-lined concrete tanks. It sits at 13%. $28.
This wine is light with warm berries and bright exotic spice. The nose reminded me of a savory strawberry tart with warm strawberries and rosemary and thyme.
I found this wine to be much more interesting when paired with food, than on it’s own.
Domaine Zinck Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV
Paul Zinck created the winery in 1964, it is now run by his son Philippe and Philippe’s wife Pascale.
This winery is also located in Eguisheim, with vineyards with soils of silk, chalk with clay-silt and volcanic ash.
This Non Vintage crémant is 100% Pinot Noir and sits at 12.5% alcohol. $25
The color on this wine is rich and warm as it also is on the palate.
Pairings for Both
Both of these wines we paired with a cheese and meat platter. We pulled up a variety of cheeses including a local cheddar from Utah coated in Earl Grey as well as prosciutto and sopresso, pistachios, pine nuts, sliced apples, apricots and salt and pepper popcorn.
Crémant d’Alsace from Domaine Zinck and a Leon Beyer Pinot Noir paired with cheese, fruit, charcuterie and salt and pepper popcorn.
These two wines were lovely to enjoy on an afternoon with the pinot noir going nicely with the Earl Grey cheddar, the sopresso and the salt and pepper popcorn most especially. The crémant went well with everything and had a great depth of flavor.
All of these wines were exceptional values and provided flavors that were not quite “typical” for the varieties.
And remember I mentioned the hues? The colors, the aromas, the flavors on the palate, they all brought a range of depth. From the faintest color of straw in the Pinot Blanc from Emile Beyer, to the rich gold of the Pinot Gris from Dopff & Irion, on to the warm rich golden salmon tones of the Crémant d’Alsace from Zinck and into the vivid rich red of the Pinot Noir from Leon Beyer, the range of expression in these wines was beautiful. It was a trip through the seasons; spring with Pinot Blanc and the brightness that went so well with the spring vegetables in the frittata; summer with the warmer exotic flavors pairing with the vivid Pinot Gris, that brought in a little of humid lazy summer days with it’s brooding side; fall with the rich warm tones of the Crémant d’Alsace, which did really look like fall in the glass; and then the richer warmer red of the Pinot Noir for Winter, that still keeps things a little light, I picture snow sparkling in moonlight amidst the festive streets of Eguisheim.
These wines brought something a little extra. Perhaps it is the soils? I mean it is true that #AlsaceRocks
If you enjoyed this, and want to dig a little deeper into Alsace, please join our chat on Twitter We love visitors and happily chat and answer questions. Simply tune in to the #winophiles hashtag on Twitter this Saturday, June 16 at 10am CDT. You can also check out the #AlsaceRocks hashtag for more Alsace fun during and after the chat.
Here’s a list of great Alsace wine suggestions from our Winophiles
You can check out another piece we did “Dipping my toe in Crémant d’Alsace“. And of course to keep up with all of our posts and wine adventures, you can find us here at Crushed Grape Chronicles . You can also find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram